Now that winter has well and truly arrived, there’s a much bigger chance you’ll have to deal with snow and ice while driving. With this in mind, you may want to invest in some winter tyres that are specially designed to offer better grip on the road.
To help you decide if winter tyres are the right option for you, we’ve put together this guide that explains how they work, how much they cost, how long you might need them for, and if you can keep them on all year round or not. Mechanic Shaun Dillnut, of Bristol Street Motors, has given us his expert advice and opinion too.
So, do you need winter tyres? Read on to find out...
Winter tyres are specially designed to provide extra grip in cold temperatures and when driving in icy or snowy conditions. These tyres are made from a softer rubber compound than standard tyres - this stops them from hardening in cold conditions and allows them to provide the grip you’ll need in temperatures below seven degrees Celsius.
Winter tyres also have a different tread pattern (they have more small slits called ‘sipes’) to help them bite into snow. The grip created by these tyres allows better braking on snow and ice.
Shaun says: “Not only do winter tyres work really well on snow and ice but they’re also effective in wet conditions too. They can reduce the chances of aquaplaning - this is when your car loses grip of the road because of water trapped between your wheel and the road itself.”
While there are certain parts of Europe where winter tyres are compulsory, the same rules don’t apply in the UK. However, some statistics suggest that UK road users are six times more likely to have an accident in the winter.
Shaun says: “Whether or not to fit winter tyres is very much a personal decision. My advice is to have a think about where you live or where you need to travel to on a regular basis. For example, do you live in a remote area? Maybe you’ve started a new job that requires you to travel to places that are more likely to be affected by snow and ice in winter? If this sounds like you, then fitting a set of winter tyres is probably a good idea.”
Winter tyres aren’t cheap. When you consider that you’re going to need five (four and one spare), the cost can potentially be around the £500 mark. If you want new rims too, the whole package is going to be even more expensive again. Ultimately, however, the price will depend on the size, style and make of tyre you want. Shop around, because some tyre fitters will offer deals.
Also, if you don’t have your own garage or storage space, you’re going to need somewhere to keep them when you have them taken off. Some car dealers and fitting centres will store them for you at a relatively low cost, so call them for a quote.
Shaun says: “If you decide you want to buy some winter tyres, remember to always get a quote for five - not just the four you want fitted to your car. Driving around with three winter tyres and one ‘normal’ one could really upset the handling of your car. While they might be considered expensive, it’s worth remembering that you’re prolonging the life of your regular tyres by not using them in the winter - which means they’ll last longer and potentially save you money in the long run.”
Try to get your winter tyres fitted before the bad weather sets in. If you’ve decided you need them, then aim to have them fitted in October with a view to having them taken off again around April , when you’re confident the worst of the bad weather has passed.
Shaun says: “Planning in advance means you’ll get as much use out of them as possible. When you’re getting them fitted I suggest taking them to your main dealer to make sure they’re fitted to the manufacturer’s specifications. Some winter tyres can affect your car’s tyre monitoring pressure system (TPMS), especially on models from 2014 onwards. A lot of non-dealer garages might not be aware of this.”
Winter tyres are specifically designed to be used in cold temperatures. The rubber is more flexible, which helps grip the road in the winter months, but using them in warmer weather means they’ll wear down much quicker.
Shaun says: ”Technically you could leave your winter tyres on all year round but I wouldn’t recommend it, simply because they don’t perform as well when not in winter conditions. For example, the braking distance is longer and the response will be totally different. Soft tyres don’t lend themselves particularly well to performing quick manoeuvres.”
Winter tyres are specifically designed to be used on the road during the colder months because they offer better grip and performance on snow and ice. They also work well on wet roads too, which you’ll no doubt experience as a driver in the UK. So, on the one hand they’re perfect for winter driving. However, they’re quite expensive and should only be used between October and April before having your standard tyres fitted again.
Do you need them? Fitting winter tyres is probably best suited to those who live in remote areas and have to deal with really snowy and icy conditions on a regular basis throughout the winter months. For many people, the cost and hassle of buying them, having them fitted, then taking them off again without getting a lot of use out of them is difficult to justify. However, the decision is ultimately up to you.
“Yes. Although many companies won’t actually charge you extra for fitting winter tyres, provided the tyre size is no different to that originally fitted by your car’s manufacturer, some may argue that fitting winter tyres could be classed as ‘modification’.”
Published: 2nd February 2016 | Last reviewed: July 2017